Posts Tagged ‘Boston Marathon tragedy’

Your friendly, neighborhood phlebotomist

18 Apr

I gave blood today. I don’t say this to garner accolades. Nor do I deserve them. Millions of people donate blood, many, like my friend Katie who let me tag along with her today, do so on a regular basis. But for me this sentence is powerful and meaningful. I gave blood today. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a very long time. Since high school really. It seems like such a simple and selfless way to help your community, to help people in need. Or if you want a slightly more selfish slant, consider that you never know when it might be you or your loved ones who are in the back of an ambulance on the way to the ER, needing the gift of someone else’s blood to save your life. It seems so simple. But for many people it’s not. Even if they have the desire, there is something that holds them back. In my case, even though I have a deep and abiding love for the word “phlebotomist”, it was a deep and abiding hatred of needles that kept me from darkening the doors of the Blood Alliance.

When I was a young teen I had outpatient surgery to remove a ganglion cyst in my left wrist. I was, of course, nervous about the whole affair, but the nurses couldn’t have been more wonderful. As they put in the first IV, the deadened the area, they used gentle tones and sure hands, got their job done efficiently, effectively, and with the least amount of discomfort to me. And then I met the anesthesiologist. He was brusque, cold, and mostly seemed annoyed that he had to be dealing with me. He said he was going to put an IV in the back of my hand, and that it would just feel like a small animal scratch. When I hesitated, he reached across the table, grabbed my hand, pulled it toward him, and roughly shoved the needle in. It hurt. A lot. And I’m sure some of that pain was the shock of it all, how roughly and rudely he treated me. It hurt, but it also scared me. And since that encounter, I have had a very difficult time with needles. But, as you may imagine, with three c-sections under my belt (pun intended), I’ve had quite a few IVs and blood draws in the past 10 years. And, well, 25 years have passed since that fateful encounter with the hateful doctor. Over time it has gotten a little easier for me, but I still hate it. I hate the feeling of the cold steel sliding under my skin. It causes a visceral reaction in me that I struggle to control. And frankly I’ve been worried that I would start the blood donation process, but have to quit partway through due to uncontrollable freaking out! And, hey, I don’t want to go through that, waste that blood, if I’m not actually helping someone. But I decided that enough is enough. I’m a grown-up now, and doing difficult things, things that disturb and upset me, is par for the course.

As I said, my friend Katie donates blood frequently, and I am incredibly grateful that she encouraged me to come along with her. It’s always easier doing something scary with a friend. While there are many places to donate blood, we here in Jacksonville are lucky enough to have the well-respected Mayo Clinic, and its conveniently located blood donation center, right in our backyard. I loved how enthusiastic they were to see Katie when we walked in (told you she donates a lot!) They asked about her husband, who typically goes along to donate with her, but had donated somewhere else this month. They asked about her running. They knew her. And that immediately put me at ease. It was a super easy process to get registered. Though I wish there was just a single box on the extensive questionnaire that said “I haven’t had sex with anyone in the past six months” instead of having to answer 40 different questions yes or no about your recent sexual partners. What? Are they just trying to rub it in? But I digress. As I said, it was an easy process, and I passed the prescreening with good blood pressure, good pulse, and an acceptable iron level (though that finger prick does make me shudder.) My phlebotomist, Stephen, was funny and engaging, and I liked him; perhaps mostly because he laughed at my non-stop stream of nervous-energy-fueled shenanigans. He was efficient, effective, and had that needle in my arm and blood flowing out with absolutely no pain. I’ll call the process vaguely uncomfortable, but certainly not painful. Helps if you don’t watch the insertion – which of course, I did not. But the blood flowing out into a bag that is sitting on a scale? Well, that’s pretty darn cool. As an aside, you may be wondering, why the scale? When I asked how much blood they were intending to take – I’d always heard it was a pint – he confirmed that, indeed, it was a pint, but a pint weighs approximately 1 pound. Cool. Though I rectified that missing pound with pizza for dinner. What? I’m missing a pint of blood, I was way too tired to cook.

Anyway, it’s not the blood part that always freaked me out, it was the needle part. But I didn’t see the needle this time, and I barely felt it. So, to Stephen I say, good job, and thank you. To my fears I say, take a hike. This girl can now donate blood. Something I’ve always wanted to do, something I will do more of going forward. I mean, what’s not to love? Helping people and free drinks & snacks? Awesome.

So, did I donate blood today because of what happened in Boston on the 15th? No. And, yes. No, because donating blood truly is something that I’ve been wanting to do for some time now, and the timing just worked out for me to be able to accompany Katie (I needed someone to hold my hand). But also yes, because, while I realize that my donating blood is not actually helping the victims of that heinous act of terrorism, it helped me feel a bit less impotent. I couldn’t help in that situation, but I can help in this one. The one where countless people in Jacksonville every day need life-saving blood. And I thought about the heroes in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings. Not just the trained, professional first responders – though I have nothing but overwhelming, heartfelt, sobbing at the images respect for them – but the regular people. The strangers, who in the aftermath of the blasts, did not run in the opposite direction, but rather fell to their knees in the street, and tore their own clothes into strips to use as tourniquets for the grievously injured. Those were regular people who stepped up in a time of crisis and became heroes. I’d like to believe that I’m that type of person. The one who helps whenever possible. The type who would step up in a time of need. Today I did not become a hero. I’m still just a regular person. But I took a step, a baby step. A step towards helping, a step away from my fear. And you know what? Having that needle in my arm felt pretty damn good.



Hug them, kiss them, lie to their faces

15 Apr


Parenting is often steeped in hypocrisy. This afternoon was no exception. I was eyeball deep in the “do as I say, not as I do” ideal; banning my children from playing with/watching/interacting with any electronics as I sat at my desk with my twitter feed open on my smart phone and a live blog open on my ipad, while I restlessly flipped between news outlets on my laptop. Just trying to gain footing, reach some kind of understanding of what was happening in Boston. Walking back from the bus stop this afternoon, my children & their friends scampered ahead, and I used that few minutes of solitude (and aforementioned smart phone) to send a goofy, playful e-mail to one of my friends regarding the possibility of catching a minor league baseball game together this weekend. When my friend Katie came out of her house and saw me messing around with my phone she asked if I had read the news. Feeling every ounce of silliness drain from my body as I saw her face, she told me the basic outline of the initial reports out of Boston. Two explosions at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. I heard her words, understood the gravity of the situation, was grateful to hear that her friend had cleared the finish line 10 minutes before the explosion and was okay. But I didn’t really hear her. I didn’t really understand.

So I got home, fired up all the electronics available to me, and I watched it unfold. Horrific images of senseless, blood-soaked destruction filled my screens. Juxtaposed against stories of those who helped, the amazing images of those racing into the smoke, toward the wreckage and screams. I sat there becoming more numb by the moment, every mouse click sucking away a tiny piece of my soul. Because, what? What? WHY? I could feel tears threatening as my thoughts swirled. The impact of these bombs reaching far beyond those grievously injured or killed in the blast zone. The runners who had trained so hard to fulfill a dream that would never cross the finish line. Or worse, the runners still on the course being redirected, told they couldn’t finish, not yet knowing that their loved ones, the ones who had supported them through all their training, the ones who were waiting in the jubilant atmosphere of the finish line to cheer and congratulate them, had been ripped apart on a city sidewalk. The chaos, the confusion, the fear. Clearly on a much smaller scale, but I could feel that same feeling, the one I got on the morning of 9/11/01, rising in my chest. Constricting my throat, my heart. My brain slowly numbing. The detachment. The impotence. I think that’s the worst feeling. That there was absolutely nothing I could do to help. I remember that feeling clearly as I watched Manhattan crumble those many years ago. There was nothing I could do. Mourning seemed insufficient. Fear seemed irrelevant. This afternoon that feeling crept back into my chest. Occupying the unhealed, ragged space created by the school massacre in Newtown. And as I sat there with all my social media open and firing, I thought what a blessing this wasn’t available on 9/11. Because social media is a powerful tool. I think it really showed it’s mettle today – there were many beneficial aspects of having mass communication available to the masses. But the imagery, the instant footage, it was almost too much. And while I started to drown in this tragedy, I could hear my children and their friends playing in the next room. The five of them were deep in some collective make-believe game. Lego creations, action figures, and their own play-acting being put to the test. It was so incredibly sweet and innocent, the sounds floating out from the family room, while the images on my screen were gruesome and terrifying. And I struggled to hold in my tears. Because I didn’t want the kids to know what was going on until I had something concrete to tell them. I didn’t want to scare them with my reaction, my own shock, disbelief, and grief. So I tamped it down. I tamped down my heart-wrenching sorrow for the victims and their families. I tamped down my rage and disgust for the type of cowardly man that would wreak such havoc upon innocents. I swallowed my emotions and felt the numb detachment wash over me. Because I am lucky. This tragedy was not personal to me. I did not know anyone injured. The only person I knew running the race had safely crossed the finish line and moved well clear of the area of destruction before it happened. Yes, I am lucky.

After the friends went home, and I had some time to process and make some sense of the varying news reports I called my children together. I very simply and succinctly told them that something bad had happened in Boston today. That two bombs had exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, and many people, though none we knew personally, were very seriously hurt, some killed. And then I lied to their faces. Because I told them that they were safe. (Excuse me a moment while a take a break to sob my ever-loving guts out. Now that they’re in bed asleep I can do that.) I told them they were safe, and that was a lie. How can I possibly promise them that they are safe? And their sweet, concerned faces looked at me so expectantly, so trusting, so sure of me. And I think that’s what is making me sob right now. They believe me. And that’s good. I want them to believe this lie. But it cuts me to my very core that I’m not sure I believe me. How could I? Especially when I hear that one of the two confirmed dead is an 8 year old child? Some mother or father was probably still out on the course as their child was being blown apart. How do you recover from that? And then I read that the families of the victim of the Newtown massacre were seated in a VIP section near the finish, and I think, how do you recover from that? How do we, collectively, recover from this? I lied to my children tonight. I can’t guarantee they will be safe. Anywhere. And, pardon my French, but that scares the shit out of me. They trusted me when I told them that they were safe. Safe with me. Safe at school. But I had to lie to them. It’s something else that comes with the territory of parenting. Because despite the fact I can’t be sure, I will do everything in my power to keep them safe. And that will have to be enough. Because it’s all I have. I will lie to them. To the very end, if necessary. Because I can’t guarantee their safety, but I can foster their childhood. I can keep them from these terrible images. And I can continue to discipline them for lying about picking up their toys. I can read them bedtime stories with my gangly 8 year old gathered into my lap. I can let them feel safe in the vast expanse, and the boundaries, of their childhood, of my love. Because I can’t keep them safe. Clearly, I cannot. And while the horrific truth, the impotence implied by that settles over me, I more fully understand what I can do. I can hug them. I can kiss them. I can lie to their faces.



© 2010 Krista Lindsey Willim